Over the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of working as a Teen Engagement Specialist at Springboard. I came to work every day and connected teens to empowering and interesting experiences, staffed interactive programs all around the world, and brainstormed with some of the brightest, most passionate youth professionals and experiential educators. As a teen, Jewish youth programming was what inspired me to learn about social justice and connected me with some of my closest friends. Most importantly, Jewish youth programming provided me with the leadership skills and confidence to be the strong, passionate, Jewish woman that I am today. I have loved spending the last two years giving back to a community that has given me so much, and I will never forget how lucky I am to have worked with this community of incredible teens, parents, and professionals. Since it’s been a busy two years of learning and growing, I thought I would leave you all with 5 lessons that I’ve learned through my time working as a Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist.
Communities are stronger when they work together.
Whether it has been collaborating with other youth professionals at professional development seminars or seeing organizations team up to create School Break programs, I have witnessed how our Jewish teen community is stronger when we come together. Every individual youth group, summer camp, teen program, and travel experience is impactful, but individuals become even stronger when working as a collective.
Teens are the most powerful force for change.
I've always known that teens have the drive and passion to improve the world but seeing it up close has been absolutely incredible. Within the last two years, I’ve seen teens in this community lead rallies, speak one-on-one with political leaders, create social media awareness campaigns, and stand up for the values that they so strongly believe. Seeing these teens speak truth to power and channel their Jewish values to create a more just world has inspired me, and others in the community, to do the same.
Being a “professional Jew” is a lot harder than it looks.
I think a common misconception people have is that being a Jewish youth professional is all about spending time at summer camp, dressing up in silly costumes at programs, and eating lots of good food at Shabbatons. And, while they’re not wrong, I’ve come to learn that there is so much hard work and heart that is poured into this work to make it what it is. The colleagues I’ve gotten to work with amaze me with their commitment to professional and leadership development. The amount I’ve learned from my Springboard colleagues, and others, has made me a better communicator, leader, and facilitator.
Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes.
There is a certain “type” we usually think of when we think of leaders: loud, extroverted, and totally confident. Working with teens, youth professionals, and parents across the community, each with different personalities, interests, and approaches, has taught me that there are limitless ways to be a leader. The Jewish teen community is an incredible place for teens to gain a sense of identity— whether it be as a recognized leader in their youth group or an active participant—and each is equally as empowering and valued. Every person I’ve worked with has different leadership skills and qualities that are unique to them, and I’ve loved watching those skills and qualities develop and grow.
A little creativity goes a long way.
Working for a brand-new initiative and helping to build it from the ground up has gotten me to think more creatively than ever before. When it came to developing 18 Under 18: A Celebration of Jewish Teens (where over 300 people gathered together at the Chicago Botanic Gardens), my team collaborated to turn fresh, creative, and imaginative ideas from a dream into a reality. The time spent thinking of creative ways to engage Jewish teens and innovative programs was always so exciting, and I like to think that the chances that I took that were a little “out there” paid off in the end.
I know these 5 lessons will guide me to success on my next path. Thank you to all the teens, parents, youth professionals, coworkers, and passionate members of the Chicagoland Jewish community who have made this journey what it has been!
-Tamara Stein, Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist